Chicago Public TV Taps Strain's Expertise


When a Chicago public television station was producing a segment on the history of two Windy City-based manufacturers of mallet percussion instruments, they contacted James Strain (Music) for his insight and a musical demonstration. Strain had published articles on one of the companies J.C. Deagan for the Percussive Arts Society journal, which he edits. He also owns many old Deagan instruments. The end result was a segment of the "Chicago Tonight" program that featured a performance by Strain and NMU students accompanied by faculty colleagues in Reynolds Recital Hall and recorded by a WNMU-TV camera crew.


"After his first contact with me, the producer went to my Web site and saw my performances there

and called and asked what instruments I owned," Strain said. "He then asked if he could come up and have me demonstrate the various instruments several xylophones, bells/glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraharp and chimes. I also used several marimbas manufactured by the other company featured in the program, C. O. Musser. I quickly put together several pieces which best illustrate the ways these instruments were used: for ragtime, vaudeville, home entertainment, public dancing and solo artist recital performances, which he incorporated into the show."


Strain was assisted by colleagues Barbara Rhyneer and Nancy Redfern (Music), and by NMU students Jen Howell, Christine Battjes, Steve Losiewicz and Erik Moisio. He also evaluated the sound quality and technical approaches to the instruments.


"J. C. Deagan was responsible for elevating these many instruments from merely toys to legitimate concert status," he said. "The workmanship and tone quality of the Deagan instruments, many of which were designed by Musser prior to him leaving the company to begin his own business, was superior to any other company for many decades. The surviving instruments still maintain their superior tone quality when compared to modern instruments."


The program was rebroadcast May 25 after originally airing March 31. Additional information, as well as two sound clips performed by Strain, can be found at WTTW Chicago Tonight.


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